When I first view a picture book, my first thought is still ‘could I read this aloud to a group of children’? ‘What is it’s theme, educational or artistic value?’ After a decade it is still hard to lose those teaching instincts!
As a bookseller, I’ve now learnt to also think about, ‘would a parent enjoy reading this over and over again at bedtime’? ‘would the child in question ask for this book to be read over and over again’? ‘does this book have the grandparent awww factor’? ‘does this book have themes, humour, aesthetics that will appeal to a modern young reader’? ‘is the price reasonable’? ‘is the author famous or well-known?’ ‘is there a gimmick that will attract media attention?’ ‘are the publishers putting lots of money & effort into marketing this book?’ “is there a TV show or app that ties in with the book?’ ‘will this book sell even though I don’t particularly like it myself?’
I often get to see beautiful, really special, unique picture books, but by the end, when I have to ask myself ‘who will actually buy this book’? I leave them with the rep, un-ordered. Sad but true. No bookshop can stock every single book ever published. Choices have to made that consider local demographics, past sales, recent requests and current trends. Even those big warehousing online sites don’t stock every single book in one place, especially now that there are print-on-demand and self-published titles flourishing in the same space.
Australian picture books do very well in my area of the world. Below is a small sample of what’s on offer right now.
I’m a bit of a fan of Corinne Fenton and Robin Cowcher and the delightful dog stories. They tap into my nostalgia gene, even though I never experienced a summer holiday like they one they have depicted, I wanted to.
‘The long, lazy days of summer holidays waited like parcels in a lucky dip.’Exactly! Even when I was teaching, the beginning of the summer holidays stretched out endlessly ahead of me full of promise and anticipation.
This time little dog is going on a road trip from Melbourne to Sydney with his family in a caravan. It’s a gentle journey story with stops at the border, Gundagai before eventually crossing the Sydney Harbour Bridge to go to Bondi Beach!! Hmmmmmm.
So the geography of Sydney may have been changed a little to suit the story!
However, it’s Cowcher’s lovely, lovely watercolour illustrations that really make this story special. I love her colour palette especially the penultimate illustration from Pretty Sally looking back into Melbourne.
A gentle, meandering story, perfect for long, lazy summer’s days.
A Bag and a Bird by Pamela Allen
Iconic Pamela Allen and iconic Sydney, but not quite as satisfying as Alexander’s Outing.
Young John from Kirribilli learns about the dangers of plastic bags to local wildlife when his lunch bag is picked up by the wind and caught by an ibis. It’s not always possible to feel sympathetic towards those rubbish scavenging birds, but watching it flounder in the water as the bag filled up with water was upsetting (and could prove to be distressing to younger readers).
Alexander’s Outing had a stronger problem solving element to it, whereas this story is more about the environmental message. They could almost be companion stories, given the similar setting and style.
The map of Sydney Harbour on the end papers helps to show John’s journey.
Wolfie by Deborah Abela
Deb Abela is more well-known for her fabulous junior fiction titles. As far as I know, Wolfie is her first foray into picture book territory, but it’s a beauty!
Much like the wolf in Aaron Blabey’s The Bad Guys, Wolfie just wants to be seen as good, kind and brave. He’s tired of the bad boy image and the bad press. He wants to feature in a story where he gets to be the hero.
But the old stories and perceptions keep getting in his way.
Told with comedic delight, Abela’s Wolfie is complemented by Connah Brecon’s fun illustrations and naughty sense of humour.
Perfect for the 4+ reader and lovers of fractured fairytales of any age.
The Pink Hat by Andrew Joyner
Joyner is an Australian author and illustrator who has hit the mark with this lovely story about a pink hat and feminism.
The black, white & pink illustrations take us on a fun journey as the pink hat warms toes, gets chased by cats and dogs, gets stuck in a tree, squeezed by a baby until it finds a safe home with a young girl…about to head off on a very special march.
This is a picture book for younger readers, so there’s not a lot of detail about why pink hats were a thing for International Day Women’s March in 2017.
However as a former preschool teacher, part of what can be done with a seemingly simple story is to use it as a way into an adult-led discussion on the bigger topics and themes that are touched on by the author, in a way that’s age appropriate for your audience.